Visit London Blog » british library Enjoy the very best of London Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:26:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Guest Editor: Joanna Lumley Mon, 20 Jan 2014 11:02:43 +0000


Watch actor, voice-over artist, former model, author and human rights campaigner Joanna Lumley’s London Story in the video above.

During our interview Joanna told us more about why, even after nearly half a century in the UK Capital, London still excites and energises her life and work. We’ve used some of her favourite London experiences to populate our homepage from 20 Jan-23 Jan 2014.

Here’s Joanna’s top five things to see and do in London:

Battersea Power Station and Stockwell

“I have lived in Earl’s Court, near Holland Park and in Wimbledon and now I live in Stockwell. Stockwell has a lot of extraordinary treats. It has got the most beautiful war memorial which is painted with poppies and things. Stockwell has its own personal characteristics [and] it is now linked to Nine Elms and the immense new development there. [It's also very close to] Battersea Power Station, one of the most iconic and thrilling parts of London, with its great four chimneys sticking up, you seem to see them all around, whichever side of the river you are. The power station is being developed into restaurants and places to live and offices and cafés and shops – a theatre even. Maybe [one day] I can walk to [work at] a theatre in Battersea.”

Holland Park

Holland Park is one of the best kept secrets in London. It is staggering, I took a Canadian friend there the other day and she was bewitched by it. It’s got parterres, winding paths, statues, its own little opera house. It has got a beautiful restaurant, an orangery. It has got formal duck ponds with ducks who have babies…little puffballs. It’s got peacocks which roost in the trees. It’s got tulips in springtime and magnolias. It’s got camellias coming out before the snow has even come off them, it’s a fantastic place. It sits between Holland Park Avenue and Kensington High Street. You can wander your way around – it’s got a football pitch, it’s got everything you could possibly want and wherever you go in it, you’ll find a new path and a new way. And you can wear smart shoes if you want to be a smart Londoner and not be muddy, or you can wear football boots.”

London in 24 hours: Open Top Bus Tour and Fish & Chips

“If you really have only got 24 hours, I think you should take one of those nice topless buses, they are terribly, terribly good, or go onto the river, where you get quite a different thing – the whole city sounds different. Take your camera and actually look at all these extraordinary places. If you can go to a museum, come to the British Library or the British Museum or the V&A or the Science Museum or the Natural History Museum. The Sir John Soane’s  Museum is packed with treats. Try to focus on something properly for an hour, then skitter about like a gadfly. Eat something, I know it’s England, but you have to eat some fish and chips.”

Knightsbridge, Piccadilly, Cromwell Road

“Whenever I come back to London after a long time away, the first thing I do is ask the driver to bring me straight down the Cromwell Road, towards Knightsbridge, veer off, round Hyde Park Corner, the great Quadriga of War – that fabulous chariot with four of them on top of the archway in the middle; a boy driving the horses furiously, and behind, aloft, holding the great wreath of peace, is the angel standing. Go round there, down past Buckingham Palace … and the great golden statue of Queen Victoria. Down Parliament Square, Big Ben, there it all is: still there, still gleaming. 

The British Library

“I think that I would die if I didn’t read books every day. Books are the most important part of my life and reading is the most important skill you can learn as a person on the planet. It doesn’t matter what else you have got. If you are able to read, you can learn everything that there has ever been known. You can read about everything, anywhere in any language, about every single thing that has ever been thought, or ever been invented, or discovered or dreamed of. So without reading, your life is dull, that’s what I say.

Discover more stories and enter a competition to win a fantastic stay in London at #TheLondonStory

What are your recommendations for visitors to London?

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Top 10 Free London Attractions Tue, 14 Jan 2014 12:28:54 +0000 Old Royal Naval College

Every visit to London should include these top London attractions. Not only are they fascinating and unique, but they’re also all free!

And we’re not the only ones to think they’re pretty good. These world-class venues were the top 10 free attractions in 2012 across London – and England too (source: VisitEngland Annual Survey of Visits to Visitor Attractions).

British Museum

British Museum

Home of the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures and mummies of Ancient Egypt, the British Museum is a treasure trove of world history and culture. The collection is free to explore, though some special exhibitions are ticketed. Free temporary displays currently include Perfect Timing: The Mostyn Tompion Clock and Wise Men From The East: Zoroastrian Traditions In Persia And Beyond.

Tate Modern. Image visitlondonimages/ britainonview/ Pawel Libera

Tate Modern

Located along the River Thames in Bankside, Tate Modern is the bright, spacious and throbbing hub of modern and contemporary art in London. There are free guided tours of this former power station every day, or you can explore the collections yourself – from Russian Revolutionary Posters to Cubist works by Picasso, Duchamp and Diego Rivera.

National Gallery

National Gallery

Where the Tate Modern showcases the new, the National Gallery celebrates the old – specifically Western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Look out for Vermeer’s A Young Woman standing at a Virginal, Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, van Gogh’s Sunflowers, da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks and many other unmissable classics from the masters.

Spend time with the kids at the Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

There’s plenty to discover and delight at the Natural History Museum, from the renowned Dinosaurs gallery to Treasures in the Cadogan Gallery, a permanent exhibition of historic gems such as the rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a dodo skeleton and the first adult skull of a Neanderthal ever discovered. Entrance is also free to the Attenborough Studio, where you can see films, join talks and meet the experts.

The Great Bed of Ware, 1590-1760. Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, LondonVictoria and Albert Museum

Billed as the world’s greatest museum of art and design, the V&A (as it’s commonly known) is known for its world-class exhibitions on fashion, culture, art and style. As well as the huge central collection and (ticketed) special exhibitions, there are free temporary displays. Current highlights include Making it up: Photographic Fictions, Masterpieces of Chinese Painting: Digital Dragons and The Jameel Prize 3, featuring works inspired by Islamic traditions of art, craft and design.

Science Museum

Science Museum

Founded in 1857, the Science Museum explores the past, present and future of scientific discoveries through its amazing galleries, interactive displays and historic collections. Go hands on in the Launchpad interactive gallery, learn about yourself in Who Am I? and see iconic inventions such as Stephenson’s original Rocket locomotive, Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 1 and Crick and Watson’s DNA model.

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

Princess Diana, Ian McKellen, Emmeline Pankhurst, the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens… beautiful captured moments of the great and good from throughout British history line the walls of the National Portrait Gallery. See how man familiar faces you can spot – and don’t miss the current star-studded special displays, such as Michael Peto Photographs: Mandela to McCartney, Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration and Bob Dylan: Face Value.

Old Royal Naval College

Old Royal Naval College

Built on the site of Greenwich Palace, along the River Thames, the Old Royal Naval College encompasses a series of fascinating historic and royal edifices. Must-sees include the magnificent Painted Hall and Chapel, located in the twin domes designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and the exhibitions and relics on display in the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre.

British Library

British Library

Beyond its famous and hushed reading rooms, the British Library is a top visitors attraction – full of fascinating exhibitions relating to literature, culture, music and more. Check out the Picture This: Children’s Illustrated Classics display (open until 26 Jan) or explore the permanent galleries’ gems, including no less than the Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks and Shakespeare’s First Folio.

National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum

Tales of adventure, discovery and daring deeds bring fresh life to the fascinating history of life on the high seas. The world’s largest maritime museum, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has something for everyone: a Children’s Gallery and Ship Simulator for the little ones, free exhibitions such as Maritime London: 1700 To Now and Nelson, Navy, Nation (featuring Nelson’s iconic uniform) and art from the likes of George Stubbs.

More free London attractions

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What’s On This Weekend: 9-10 November 2013 Mon, 04 Nov 2013 10:00:15 +0000

From The Lord Mayor’s Show to the Regent Street Christmas Lights Switch On, there are loads of exciting events taking place in London this weekend!

The Lord Mayor’s Show and Fireworks

Not only does the City of London have a new Lord Mayor (who will preside over the City for one year), but for only the second time in its long history, the Lord Mayor is a woman. Fiona Woolf will celebrate her election with the traditional Lord Mayor’s parade from Guildhall to the Royal Courts of Justice, where she will swear an oath of loyalty to The Queen before setting off on the return journey. The parade, which features colourful floats from a wide variety of City institutions, commences at 11am and starts its return journey at 1pm. For full details on the route and timings, visit the website. Early risers can also watch the Lord Mayor’s flotilla, which sets off in the QRB Gloriana from Westminster at 8.30am. The day’s events will culminate in a spectacular firework dsplay at 5pm – see our guide for tips on where to stand. 9 Nov

Fortnum and Mason St Pancras opens

For the first time in 307 years, a new Fortnum and Mason shop will be opening in London. Situated in St Pancras International station, the mini version of Piccadilly‘s most famous shop will feature a selection of their best-loved treats as well as a chance to relax in the tea salon. From 8 Nov

The Nordic Ja Ja Ja festival

Head to the Camden Roundhouse for a lively festival of Nordic culture. The first ever Ja Ja Ja Festival features the region’s music, film, art, and of course cuisine. There will even be a Nordic Fika! Day tickets are £25, or you can get a weekend pass for £40. 8-9 Nov

Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War

It’s almost 100 years since the start of the First World War, and with Rememberance Sunday this weekend it’s a perfect time to see Stanley Spencer’s poignant depictions of war at Somerset House. The large-scale paintings are scenes from the artist’s own wartime experiences and evoke the sometimes surprising ordinariness of wartime life and the domestic tasks in which Spencer found solace. This is a rare chance to see the paintings outside of their usual home at the National Trust’s Sandham Memorial Chapel. Admission is free. Until 26 Jan

Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain at the British Library

Whether you believe they were decorous or riotous, you can’t deny that the Georgians left a significant mark on London and British culture. This new exhibition explores Georgian life through their everyday objects, and charts the rise of fashion, celebrity and conspicuous consumption, as well as the rise of the arts and information. You can see unique items from the Library’s archive, including rare books and maps, as well as loaned objects and artwork. Tickets are £9 for adults. Until 11 Mar

The Regent Street Christmas Lights

It’s never too early to start thinking about Christmas, and you can get into the early festive spirit at the official switching on of the Regent Street Christmas lights. As well as the lights, which are themed around new animated film Mr. Peabody and Sherman, you can see performances by Leona Lewis, Passenger and Eliza Doolittle. The event is free. 9 Nov

More London events


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What’s On This Weekend: 11-13 October 2013 Mon, 07 Oct 2013 09:00:46 +0000

There are loads of fascinating things to see in London this weekend, from seeing movies at a world-class film festival to viewing a stunning array of early Elizabethan jewellery at the Museum of London.

BFI London Film Festival

The acclaimed BFI London Film Festival returns for its 57th year of screening world-class film in the heart of the city. Featuring more than 450 films in total, the festival is a perfect opportunity to see new films before anyone else.  The festival opens with the European premiere of Tom Hanks’ new film Captain Phillips, and you can see the full two-week programme and ticket options on the BFI website. 9-20 Oct 

Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013

This year more than 1200 people entered this prestigious competition, which is run by the Royal Observatory. Visitors to the exhibition can see the spectacular winning entries, including the overall winner ‘Guiding Light to the Stars’. You can also see the images featured in a new planetarium show. Tickets to the Royal Observatory cost £7 for adults. Until 23 Feb 2014

Rumfest at ExCel

Love rum? Then don’t miss Rumfest, an annual event showcasing the best – and rarest – versions of the spirit.  Not only can you sample more than 400 different varieties, but you can also enjoy a variety of masterclasses and demonstrations that will teach you everything you’ll ever want to know about rum! Tickets start at £25 – check out the festival’s many ticket options to make sure you get the right Rumfest experience for you. 12-13 Oct

The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels at the Museum of London

Discovered buried under a cellar floor in the City of London 101 years ago, the Cheapside Hoard is a spectacular collection of Elizabethan and early Stuart jewellery. You can see more than 500 pieces, including necklaces, rings and perfume bottles, as well as learn more about the fascinating history of the find. Book using our special offer to get 2-for-1 tickets (normally £10 for adults). Until 27 April 2014

Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art at the British Museum

Visit the British Museum to discover the art of Shunga – erotic Japanese pictures that were created between 1600 and 1900. Not only can you learn about the taboo artform’s complex history and see a variety of exquisite pictures, but you’ll also discover the way it has inspired modern Japanese art and Western painters. Adult tickets are £7. Until 5 Jan 2014

More London events

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Chill Out! 8 Places to Cool Off When it’s Hot in London Thu, 18 Jul 2013 10:00:14 +0000 Yesterday, the Met Office issued a Level 3 heatwave warning in London as temperatures reach 30C (86F) in the capital. While that might seem normal for some of our overseas visitors, it’s a bit of a shock for others used to seeing more lukewarm sunshine-and-showers while they’re in town.

If you’re looking for somewhere to escape the heat, we’ve got the following suggestions for top places to chill out in London this weekend:

Icebar London

Drink in an Igloo
Made of Swedish ice and maintained at a constant -5C all year round, Icebar is literally the UK’s coolest bar. You’ll need to book ahead, but you’re sure to cool down pretty quickly with one of their chilled cocktails: the Bunga Spritz is this month’s tipple of choice: Aperol, Ruby Port Reduction, Grapefruit bitter and Prosecco

Ice Climbing
Forget sunbathing, this weather calls for ice climbing! Head to Ellis Brigham’s Covent Garden store where you can clamber all over their Vertical Chill Ice Wall for an hour’s seriously chilly fun.

Ice Skating
Slightly less daunting than climbing a wall of ice, why not try skating gracefully over it instead? The Lee Valley Ice Centre is an international sized (56m x 26m) rink with space for 800 skaters. They offer learn to skate courses for novices.

Ice Cream Fit for a Queen
The Parlour Restaurant situated on the First Floor of Fortnum & Mason offers top-quality gastronomic ice cream indulgence to children (and adults!) of all ages. If you’re after weird and wacky flavours, this is the place for you: many are unique to F&M.

Dive In
Many of London’s outdoor pools are unheated: particular favourites among the team here are Brockwell Lido in South East London, and Hampstead Heath’s bathing ponds to the North of the city.

Brockwell Lido

Cool Culture
Head into one of London’s free cultural institutions, and you’ll be greeted with a wave of cooling, cultured air. Galleries have to maintain strict temperatures to preserve their exhibits: inside the National Gallery, it’s usually 23C. We’re big fans of escaping the heat in the V&A’s ceramics gallery. Inside the British Library, it’s usually between a cool 18C and 21C, to keep all those glorious books in tip top condition. And quiet too. Bliss.

Hit the Water
There are plenty of boats offering cooling trips down the Thames. But none offer quite as effective rush of cold air as the speedboat tours. You might have white knuckles from holding on, but you’ll feel refreshed by the end!

Fun Fountains
It’s where the cool kids are: as the temperatures rise, the fountains on the Southbank, in More London near The Scoop, and in Granary Square are attracting scores of soaked children playing in the jets. If only the adults could get away with it too…

Do you have any more tips for beating the heat in London? Let us know in the comments below!

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What’s On This Weekend: 17-19 May 2013 Mon, 13 May 2013 09:00:50 +0000 This weekend really highlights the incredible cultural diversity to be found in London. Not only can you enjoy large-scale festivals that celebrate the best of the city’s museums and traditions, but there are also many smaller events which epitomise the myriad interests that you can explore in the capital.

The Chelsea Fringe

Commencing on Saturday, the Chelsea Fringe celebrates the forthcoming RHS Chelsea Flower Show with an extended programme of horticultural events around London. There is a huge variety of events – most of which are free – on offer: visitors can enjoy everything from treasure hunts to floral-themed cocktails. See the Chelsea Fringe website for full programme details. 18 May-9 Jun

Museums at Night

An inspirational festival for those of a nocturnal persuasion, Museums at Night opens up most of London’s cultural institutions for three evenings of learning, exploration and fun. Whatever your interests, there should be something for you; whether that’s a pyjama party at Hampton Court Palace, a 1940s-themed event at the RAF Museum or a tour of the magnificent Banqueting House. For a full list of events, times and ticket prices, visit the Museums at Night website. 16-18 May 

Propaganda: Power and Persuasion at the British Library 

A must for anyone who is curious about how governments communicate with and influence their citizens, the British Library’s new exhibition promises to be a fascinating insight into international state propaganda. Concentrating on the 20th and 21st centuries, the exhibition uses posters, films, cartoons and texts to illustrate the sometimes surprising ways in which people can be informed, mis-informed or persuaded. Entry is free for under 18s or £9 for adults.. 17 May-17 Sep

Curiosities and Quirky Fans at the Fan Museum

Celebrate the quirkier side of fan-making at this wonderful small museum in Greenwich. At this new exhibition you can explore the history of ‘alternative’ fan-making and see how craftsmen have incorporated both unusual objects and designs into their beautiful creations. Admission is £4 for adults. 15 May-1 Sep


Get the best challah, falafels and bagels in town at the Gefiltefest London Jewish Food Festival. Taking place at Ivy House, the former home of ballerina Anna Pavlova, the festival will offer a mix of food stalls, cooking demonstrations, lectures, tastings and workshops. Highlights include talks by award-winning Jewish authors, a chance to find out who won the 2013 Jewish Food awards, and a debate on the merits of eating locust. Adult tickets are £25. 19 May

More events in London

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London Video of the Week: London for Free by Rob Eagle Wed, 30 Jan 2013 10:00:17 +0000

Rob Eagle’s video highlights some of the brilliant free things to do in London, from the British Museum to the Hunterian Museum.

The film won the Raindance Film Festival award in UCL’s London for Free competition.

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Mughal India: Highlights From the British Library Exhibition Wed, 12 Dec 2012 13:00:40 +0000

Having just returned from a three-week trip to northern India, the British Library‘s latest exhibition makes me all nostalgic.

It is the first comprehensive look at the art of the Mughals, a dynasty whose empire spanned much of the Indian subcontinent during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As Muslims from Persia who ruled over a Hindu majority, the Mughals did not crush their Indian subjects, but fused their artistic skills and resources together, producing iconic creations like the Taj Mahal.

On my visit to India, it was impossible to visit any place in the romantic desert state of Rajasthan, or even in hectic and maddening Delhi, without stumbling across art and architecture that tells the story of the Mughals and their power struggles, romance and deep regard for the arts, as well as their eventual decline when the British came along in the 1800s.

Building an Empire

You’re bound to recognise the subject of this drawing in the exhibition, created in 1812-15. The Taj Mahal is one of the most well-known monuments in the world, and I’m happy to say it deserves its reputation as the most beautiful. The Mughals were prolific builders of forts, palaces and monuments and this legacy marks local people today – the Taj Mahal is maintained by descendants of the original 20,000 craftspeople who worked on its site in Agra for 22 years to create the breathtakingly symetrical building, a monument for Mumtaz Mahal, the late queen of the emperor Shah Jahan.

Fathers and Sons

Emperor Shah Jahan, famous for building the Taj Mahal, is pictured in this painting greeting his son Aurangzeb at the court or durbar in 1650-1655. Court rituals such as this demonstrate the complex hierarchy of life at court, but just a few years later Aurangzeb overthrew his father and imprisoned him for the rest of his life in Agra Fort, where he could only gaze at the Taj Mahal from a distance.





One of the first successful British missions to India was that of the ambassador Sir Thomas Roe. His journal entries from 1616 make a rare appearance in the British Library exhibition. Roe was presented to the fourth Mughal emperor Jahangir on 10 January 1616 and described him as “very merrie and joyfull” in the journal.



Final Days

Monuments like Delhi’s Red Fort, pictured in this painting, are legacies of Mughal creativity but also tell the story of Britain and India. This artwork was created in the dying days of the dynasty 1846. In 1857, the last Mughal emperor was dethroned here by the British.

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire is at the British Library until 2 April. Tickets are £9 with reductions for concessions, seniors and students.

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Dickens on Your Phone: A Tale of Three Apps Fri, 27 Jan 2012 14:00:39 +0000 Among the events and activities celebrating Charles Dickens’ birth (the big day is 7 February), are these fun Dickens-themed apps. Follow in Dickens’ footsteps (with the aid of GPS!), examine one of his manuscripts, or enjoy a Dickensian graphic novel – all from the comfort of your smartphone:

Dickens: Dark London, Museum of London

Museum of London has launched an interactive graphic novel to coincide with its Dickens and London exhibition. Accompany Dickens on his night time walks and experience the darker side of Dickensian London in this app, based on Dickens’ short stories. Dickens: Dark London is illustrated by David Foldvari and voiced by actor Mark Strong. New editions will be released monthly. Dickens: Dark London, iPhone and iPad only, first edition free, subsequent editions, £1.49

Treasures by The British Library

Get your fingers on a handwritten draft of Nicholas Nickleby with The British Library’s Treasures app. This fascinating manuscript from the library’s collection is now available to view in a digital format on your phone, and shows the corrections and alterations Dickens made to the story. Among the other, erm, treasures on the app are sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, a first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and audio excerpts from the library’s expert curators. iPhone and Android editions (£2.39), HD iPad edition (£3.49)

Dickens Map on Spottd

Find and visit highlights of Dickensian London on location-based sharing app Spottd. The Dickens map pinpoints famous locations from his novels, as well as some of Dickens’ own favourite haunts, including his family home in Camden; The Prospect of Whitby pub; and The Old Curiosity Shop on Portsmouth Street (often cited as the inspiration for the novel of the same name). Spottd, iPhone only, free

What do you think of these apps and are there any we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below?

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What the Dickens? Why London’s Novelist is Everywhere in 2012 Mon, 09 Jan 2012 12:25:36 +0000 You may have caught the BBC’s Great Expectations adaptation over Christmas, and already seen the fantastic Dickens and London exhibition at the Museum of London, but for fans of London’s most famous novelist, the phrase “please sir, can I have some more?” has never been more appropriate.

7 February 2012 marks 200 years since Dickens’ birth and institutions and organisations all over the world are staging a variety of cultural events to celebrate.

The programme, called Dickens 2012, is being co-ordinated by the Charles Dickens Museum and Film London and patrons include Sir Derek Jacobi, Peter Ackroyd and Claire Tomalin.

In London – the city that Dickens more than anyone else helped to document and mythologise – venues include the British Library, BFI Southbank and of course the Charles Dickens Museum. The main highlights are:

Other Dickens 2012 events are at the V&A Museum of Childhood, the V&A itself and there’s even a Dickens book club at Foyles bookshop. (My 2012 resolution is to finally finish Little Dorrit).

For more information on Dickens 2012 visit And use the comments below to let us know if you’ve enjoyed any of the bicentenary events, or even your favourite Dickensian London spot.

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